Guns, Violence, and Identity among African American and Latino Youth

By Deanna L. Wilkinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Neighborhood:
An Ecology of Danger

This chapter is the first of four interrelated chapters that attempt to layout the contextual ecology in which the young males in this study are situated. I start with neighborhood context because so much of the violent behavior that is described in subsequent chapters needs to be understood in the contexts available to these young people. None of the 125 young men who were interviewed for this study felt that their neighborhoods were safe places to grow up. In the pages that follow I present quotes that illustrate some of the dominant themes that characterized how these young men perceive their neighborhood environments. Embedded in many of the descriptions is a sense of pessimism that conditions will not change although many youth acknowledge that there are people in the neighborhood trying to make a difference. The common set of complaints about the neighborhood included drugs (use, addiction, market competition, and legal consequences), violence, guns, tension or hypersensitivity between residents, a general lack of unity, a lack of viable employment opportunities, a lack of social and recreational alternatives for young people, an abundance of negative role models, and the absence of effective social control agents.

This chapter demonstrates that the level of danger for young males in these neighborhoods is extremely high; the individuals interviewed are exposed to violence daily. Neighborhood youth are armed with handguns, guns dominate conflict interactions, and guns are necessary for protection especially for those involved in illegal activity. Much of the violence is motivated in part by justice seeking behaviors in the absence of effective social control agents. Adult-youth relationships are precarious at best; outlooks for the future are quite negative for these young men.

We purposely selected East New York and Mott Haven for this study because of the rates of violence and correlates of violence including concentrated poverty, high unemployment, and low educational attainment. The picture that emerges from the statistical data provides little information about how residents of those neighborhoods negotiate safety; perceive social threat, or protect themselves from harm. The young men we interviewed had many opinions about their neighborhoods and described the ways in which

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